More than 100 adventurers recently descended on the Four Seasons Resort Whistler in British Columbia. They participated in mountain biking, river rafting, horseback riding, ziptrek rides, golfing, hiking and even an Amazing Race-type event in which small groups dashed around the town of Whistler looking for clues. The group also spent hours at the 15-treatment-room spa, letting their tensions melt away as they reclined in the decadent alpine facility. No, this wasn’t a mass vacation escape or even a fitness retreat. It was a business gathering of more than 60 executives from Oracle USA and their guests.
And it perfectly illustrates an increasingly necessary trend in meetings: wellness. “Our client wanted to reward their employees with the opportunity to do these activities in one of the most beautiful places on earth, so it added a certain excitement that this was a unique experience they may not always have,” explains Carolyn Counihan of Carlson Marketing, Meetings & Events in Minneapolis, the planner who orchestrated the Whistler event for Oracle. As recently as a decade ago, planners rash enough to incorporate the word “wellness” into their agendas were scoffed at as granola-crunching hippies looking to bust up a perfectly good off-site work weekend sure to be filled with scotch swilling, cigar smoking and fried-food eating. But a paradigm shift has occurred.
Today’s convention- and meeting-goers are looking for wellness while they work. Health-themed motivational sessions and active team-building–coupled with sybaritic spa offerings and fitness opportunities that take advantage of inspiring local surroundings– are quickly becoming the norm. And from mountaintop to oceanfront, and amid vast desert hills and valleys, planners are gravitating to the resorts that can meet those needs and watching their attendees leave a meeting calmer, more invigorated and smarter about their lifestyle choices. THE IMPORTANCE OF A SPA According to a recent survey by the International Spa Association (ISPA), more than one-quarter of all adults in the U.S. and Canada (57 million) have visited a spa, with 15 percent of those tallied having visited a spa within the past year. Hotels and resorts around the country are taking note.
A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers Research shows that four out of 10 U.S. properties currently under development will include a spa, while 27 percent of existing luxury and upscale hotels currently offer spas. “Planners tell me a full-service spa is a crucial amenity for an incentive program,” adds Anne Dimon, founder and editor of traveltowellness.com, an e-magazine for the wellness-minded traveler. “Even if it is not being worked into the program itself, convention delegates have begun to demand the availability of a spa on-site.” Confirming that growing demand, Lynne Walker McNees, president of the International Spa Association says, “The spa experience adds balance for busy people who are attending a convention. After a stressful day of meetings and making new contacts, spa treatments offer convention-goers the opportunity to relax, reflect, revitalize and rejoice.” CHOOSING A SPA Planning a successful meeting that incorporates a spa element is not as simple as just finding a location with a spa facility. Preparing for a group spa visit should begin months before the actual event, and planners should realize that not all spas are created equal.
The first sure sign of a quality spa is good customer service. From the first phone call to the spa to a tour during a site visit, a pleasant, experienced staff is more likely to ensure a positive experience for your clients. “If the spa staff is friendly, accommodating, knowledgeable and willing to answer your questions, you are on the right track to a successful event,” says Maureen R. Vipperman, spa director at The Spa at Pacific Palms Conference Resort in Industry Hills, near Los Angeles. During a site visit, a variety of criteria can indicate a positive spa environment. The spa must be clean and well maintained. Be sure there are adequate arrangements and space for snacks and drinks. Make sure the robes and slippers look comfortable and that oversize robes and shoes that fit are available for guests of all sizes. Also take note of other popular spa amenities, such as pools, Jacuzzis, steam rooms and saunas that guests may enjoy. Most importantly, observe the relaxation areas. Look for spacious relaxation rooms or common areas that will allow your clients to decompress before, between or after services, or could even host an impromptu group meeting if needed.
The most accommodating spas will have male, female and co-ed areas. “If your male and female attendees have to wait together in their robes, some people can feel uncomfortable,” says Vipperman. A few other important factors to consider when selecting a spa are its size, hours and the ability to accommodate groups. There is no specific formula for treatment rooms per group due to the vast differences in scheduling styles and treatment options, as well as the meeting schedule and the amount of free time built into the itinerary. For example, Kayantá Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun has just eight treatment rooms, but Fritz Mercer, director of meetings and special events, says that the spa director is able to work wonders with scheduling, accommodating groups numbering in the hundreds by using outdoor beachside cabanas and optional in-room services, along with skilled booking prowess.